CORVALLIS, Ore. — This was an opportunity that UCLA couldn’t let get away.
And the Bruins did.
UCLA had received a sliver of hope in the Pac-12 Conference basketball standings Thursday, when California defeated top-ranked Arizona. The chance to move within a game of the first-place Wildcats was in the Bruins' hands.
It slipped away with a 71-67 loss to Oregon State.
Hallice Cooke had 20 points to lead the Beavers (13-8 overall, 5-4 in conference), who had five players in double figures. Eric Moreland and Angus Brandt, Oregon State’s 6-foot-10 forwards, repeatedly hurt the Bruins inside. Brandt had 13 points while Moreland contributed 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The Beavers took control of the game with an 18-2 run midway through the second half to take a 65-54 lead with 2 minutes 29 seconds left. They then held off a late push by the Bruins to salvage the win.
Play was ragged throughout. UCLA (17-5, 6-3) shot 39% from the field for the game. Oregon State had 18 turnovers and missed four of eight free throws in the last minute, allowing the Bruins to get to within one point, 67-66.
Jordan Adams had a chance to give UCLA the lead, but he was called for charging on a fast break with 14 seconds left.
While the second-place Bruins were unable to gain ground on Arizona, Oregon State was able to move forward … well, with baby steps.
The Beavers have not been to an NCAA tournament since 1990. But their ambitions were considerably more modest Sunday. With the victory, Oregon State reaches the midway point of conference play above .500 for the first time in 15 seasons.
Still, no one seemed very interested in this game. Gill Coliseum was significantly empty. True, many Oregon State students might have had a late night studying in the library and other fans might not have wanted to miss a second of the five-hour Super Bowl pregame show.
Whatever the reason, brunch with the Bruins was not a hit.
The players, though, had to be there. Through the first half there seemed little indication that they wanted to be there.
Adams, the Bruins' leading scorer, was out of sorts all day, missing all nine of his shots. Zach LaVine, UCLA’s best perimeter shooter, was one for seven from the field.
There were minor upheavals that allowed UCLA to take a 27-16 lead. Bryce Alford, who had not made a three-point shot since Jan. 12, made back-to-back long-range shots to erase a 16-14 Oregon State lead. It helped UCLA to a 31-29 halftime lead.